In Pictures: Chelsea find a way to end their chaotic season with Europa League final glory
Benfica 1 Chelsea 2: When they come to tell the story of the last 12 months of Chelsea’s history this night, this game, this trophy are really going to take some explaining.
How Rafa Benitez's team came to be the holders of the Europa League, as well as the European Cup, which is still theirs until 25 May, is one hell of story. It ended in the 93rd minute of the game when Branislav Ivanovic, hanging in the cool Amsterdam evening air that little bit longer than any of the Benfica defence, headed in a remarkable winner.
Did they dominate this game? Far from it. Did they ride their luck when Benfica controlled the first half? You bet. Did they deserve it? The winners always deserve it, no matter how they get there. As the cameras panned across the tearful Benfica fans - this was their seventh straight European final defeat dating back to 1963 - they knew that they had blown a golden chance.
Chelsea's 68th game of the season and they looked every inch a team running on fumes for much of it. But one thing that this team does not lack is an unquenchable desire to win games - and they find a way. They always seem to find a way. Fernando Torres scored a brilliant goal to give them the lead and then, when Oscar Cardozo equalised with the penalty, it fell to Ivanovic to steal in and head the ball in.
Chelsea are the experts in winning European trophies the way you are not supposed to win European trophies. As in Munich last May they were torn to shreds at times, overwhelmed and swaying on their feet. And like Munich it was them at the end of the game with the trophy in their hands, giving Paulo Ferreira the bumps and walking around with big daft grins on their faces.
Then, the moment you could never have expected. Benitez, who had hung back from the trophy parade, holding the trophy in his hands and tentatively approaching the Chelsea fans and them responding by applauding. It was almost enough to draw the attention away from John Terry, resplendent in the full Chelsea kit for the second trophy presentation in 12 months. In many respects, it would have been more disappointing had he not been.
When Frank Lampard's shot hit the bar in the 87th minute you had to wonder if the fairy tale finish on this improbable night had eluded Chelsea. In fact they were storing up something even better. No matter how much they were overrun in the first half, no matter how much they were clinging on at times, this was a superb header - a giant leap, a twist mid-air and some considerable hang-time before he nodded the ball back over goalkeeper Artur.
Yes, Chelsea were back in charge again, although a mistake by Ivanovic in the very last moment of the game almost let Cardozo in again but Petr Cech, excellent all night, thrust out a hand to push the ball away as the Paraguayan closed in. Chelsea, Benitez, Frank Lampard, Torres the whole lot of them had confounded the odds again and found that extra yard when it mattered most.
As for Torres, the scorer of a goal that was a throwback to his best days, he has achieved football's most remarkable grand slam. For club and country he, like Mata, is currently part of two teams that hold between them the World Cup, the European Championship, the European Cup and the Europa League. For the ten seconds it took him to score his first, he was the old Torres.
Afterwards, Jorge Jesus, the Benfica manager, raged against what he saw as the injustice of the result. He claimed his team were the “worthy winners”, he claimed that the Benfica supporters were better than the Chelsea supporters, he clutched at every straw he could but the emotional reality he said was that his players felt like they were “gunned down after the game”.
Chelsea reaped a whirlwind from the start and really it got little better for most of the first half. Ramires was pushed up to the right wing to compensate for the loss of Victor Moses, who was injured, and Lampard and David Luiz in midfield were barely in it before the break. Only in the second half did Lampard, and then Ramires, emerge as key figures for Chelsea.
Were it not for the woeful finishing of Benfica, before the break, this final could well have been over by half-time. The Portuguese side ruled the roost and keeping them ticking over in midfield was the very able Serbian Nemanja Matic, formerly of Chelsea.
Signed by Chelsea from the Slovakian club Kosice in 2009 as a 20-year-old, Matic left the club in January 2011 as part of the deal to bring in Luiz. Now 24, he is a dominant holding midfielder, or intimidating stature at 6ft 4in and he kept the possession ticking over nicely.
Between the 11th and 15th minutes, Chelsea were opened up on three occasions by Benfica down the wings and with the ball loose in their area more than once they were at the mercy of their opponents. Benfica could not make them pay and with just Lampard's shot, saved by Artur on 38 minutes, Chelsea stumbled over the line to get in at half-time without conceding.
There was a Cardozo goal just marginally, but correctly, disallowed for offside, and an important Cesar Azpilicueta tackle on Rodrigo before Chelsea got going in the second half. Torres' goal was a classic route one attack, which was made by Cech's throw down the middle of the pitch.
Torres was behind the Brazilian defender Luisao when he set off in pursuit of the ball but by the time he reached it the two of them came together and it was Luisao who bounced out the way. Torres emerged with the ball, went to the right of Artur and delayed his shot once to go beyond the reach of the goalkeeper before rolling it in.
Benfica's penalty was given for a handball by Azpilicueta. Cardozo's whimsical run-up suggested complacency but he thumped the ball past Cech. Later, his dipping shot was tipped over by Cech. Then Lampard hit the bar, the prelude to Ivanovic's remarkable winner. These are golden times for the Chelsea support. On nights like this it must feel like they can find a way to win every time.
Man of the match Lampard.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee B Kuipers (Neth).
Belfast Telegraph Digital